I’m sure the readers of this website do not need me to explain what G.A.S is. I’m sure we’ve all experienced it.
In this article I want to talk about a little realisation I’ve had about my own G.A.S and the sorts of things that have featured on my G.A.S list over the past month or so. First of all, as the name suggests G.A.S is about gear but, I would argue that film forms a part of gear – after all, the cameras that I own wouldn’t function without it. However, for the purposes of this article I would like to add a third strand of G.A.S that I suffer from, and that is the acquisition of photography and art related books, magazines and other publications.
My issue with G.A.S
I came to realise this week that, for me, G.A.S is actually a symptom of my depression and anxiety. Photography (specifically analogue photography) is my absolute passion, it brings me the most joy of any hobby I’ve tried and I now believe that when times get tough, I bury myself in it.
Under normal circumstances I think that using your hobby as a distraction is perfectly normal. In fact, if you’ve listened to Daniel Sigg’s new podcast, you’ll probably agree with me that it can be a form of meditation. However, every now and then I find myself down rabbit holes of researching this camera or that, or some rare films that I want to try and yes, endlessly looking at books online. It becomes obsessive. Since November (ish) I’ve been finding myself more frequently down these rabbit holes, coming to a bit of a peak this last week. The week that, in England, we’ve discovered that everything is much more serious that we had hoped with the pandemic (I won’t elaborate further because we’ve all heard enough of it).
I can’t remember what triggered the thought process but I realised that every instance of G.A.S that I’ve had has come about at a time of heightened anxiety for me. I’m not a big shopper, I enjoy days out shopping with my mum and sister for the social aspect but the shopping itself doesn’t bother me. Cameras, books and film though are the exception. And so I would compare it, in broad terms, to those who feel the latest car or watch will make them happy – for me, in those moments, I think that shooting with X camera will be better or more interesting than Y camera I currently shoot with.
In actual fact though, it’s the research that I’m doing that I’m benefiting from. It’s taking my mind off what is going on, I’m reading endless reviews of cameras or synopses of books, I’m looking through example pictures from others’ portfolios – I’m lost in that World instead of reality.
Many refer to G.A.S as a disease (comically I might add). But for me, whether a good thing or a bad thing, I’ve realised that it is a symptom of my mental health rather than a disease on it’s own. A symptom which I can now recognise and take a step back from and see with some perspective.
Finding Other Distractions
So, am I cured? No of course not! I started writing this article a month ago in the first week of January (hence the reference to the pandemic above). Since then I have fallen down more rabbit holes and yes, ordered a few more books, but the difference is that I can see it for what it is. You could even say, maybe, that I’ve started to redirect the energy involved.
You may have recently seen Edd Carr’s post about the Northern Sustainable Darkroom, the work that he, his organisation and the London Alternative Photography Collective are doing is so inspiring to me that’s it’s pushed me over the edge of another project.
I’ve long been concerned about the environment and have made changes in various parts of my life but my film photography practice always niggled at me. It’s so important for my mental health but a small voice was telling me that it was also a little bit wrong. And the resources I’ve discovered via these groups has inspired me to make a change. I’m going to make a conscious effort to slow down my use of film, being more considered in my shots and working my way more gently through the stash I have acquired. I recently took an inventory of my film stock and realised that I have enough film to shoot a roll each of 120 and 35mm per month for about 2 years. That’s ridiculous – what was I thinking?!
Off the back of this, a friend and I have set up a Facebook group (yes another one!) which we are hoping is going to be a bit of a library of resources and knowledge for those looking to reduce their environmental impact in their photographic practice. This is not a place for perfection but a place to get some inspiration and try things out to see how they work for you. Whether you are just thinking about what you could do or whether you already have a fully sustainable practice, everyone is welcome. It’s a work in progress, after all I’m a novice too, so all contributions to the resources are welcome.
I’ve also found some other things I’m hoping to try in the near (or distant) future:
- I’m currently setting up my own darkroom at home and so I hope to start working with the negatives that I already have rather than always shooting more. I have ideas that I want to try out like hand colouring/dying prints, cyanotypes, different printing techniques and so on.
- I’ve found some amazing resources on learning to fix and service cameras which I’m hoping to work through. I have a few broken cameras with a range of different issues that I’d like to try my hand at.
- I’ve just come across a very exciting facebook group dedicated to building/modifying your own cameras. There are some amazing contraptions in there which has got the creative juices flowing.
- I’m hoping to take advantage of this fantastic community to participate in more camera swaps and loans so that I can try out strange and wonderful cameras without the financial burden. And of course, enable others to do the same.
I don’t suppose there is a cure for GAS. Without becoming a complete recluse I’m inevitably going to be inspired by this person or that piece of work to start researching products and ideas but it’s having the perspective that’s going to help me going forward. Channeling something seen as negative into a positive outcome and using my hobby to help me through these bizarre times. As with anything, it takes practice.
I’m always interested in talking to others about this stuff, if you’d like to get involved then you can reach out to me via Instagram or my website!
p.s I’ve littered this with what are to me, calming images – they have no relevance other than that.
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52 thoughts on “Reflecting on G.A.S and Finding other Distractions – By Holly Gilman”
Let’s face it, unless you do photography for a living it’s an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Even then, it has a component of OCD or you would not have gotten into that profession in the first place. Why else would someone spend all that money on cameras, film, darkrooms, camera bags and more? GAS is OCD.
It really isn’t – OCD is a fairly serious physiological disorder. Obsessing over a hobby, even as a distraction from other issues is not that.
Having had an OCD father, I can certainly second Hamish!
Good luck with all that you’re aiming for, Holly.
Whatever it takes to maintain our mental health and wellbeing is what we must do. At any time, never mind these days.
Thank you 🙂
Thank you again Holly for a thought provoking piece. Please could you let me know what the Facebook group concerned with building and modifying cameras is called.
Handmade Film Camera – https://www.facebook.com/groups/621749104505605
The weirdest thing about GAS – for me – that I have noticed gradually over the years, is that buying a new lens, or camera, or whatever, is not just going to make me a better photographer, but is somehow going to change the physical appearance of my world. Of course the world stays the same and leaves me a little bewildered! I agree about the learning aspect of GAS though.
I think you’re right about wanting to change the appearance of the world! Need to get better in the darkroom/lightroom hahah!
I found myself looking at Noctilux’s yesterday. I don’t need or even like big fat heavy expensive lens and it is certainly something I don’t need lockdown in a provincial English city. I read somewhere that the cure for GAS is to not buy another bit of kit, but to buy a good photography book. I might give that a go.
I have enjoyed your other posts BTW.
Thank you! As I mentioned photography books are a big downfall for me – often parcels turn up that I don’t remember ordering which is quite worrying. But at the same time I just love them all so much – so is it really so bad? Gear often gets left on a shelf or somehow disappoints but those books are absolutely treasured!
After going through abut 50 cameras over the last decade, I finally found a cure. It’s called a Nikon F6. I also have a Nikon Df, and I’m at the point now where I don’t even need any more lenses.
Perhaps you’ve solved it – keep going till you find what you’re looking for! haha.
An interesting article, Holly, thank you. I can sympathise with you regarding photography being a “happy place”, an escape albeit temporary from the worries and woes of the uncertain times we live in. Although it’s not what triggered my renewed interest in film, certainly my G.A.S and my near continual desire to be thinking, reading about or doing photography is symptomatic of my need to escape all the doom and gloom that afflicts us. Indulging in film and all the environmental impact it potentially can have may seem at odds with one of the main issues that bothers me and I suppose it it is , which is why I decided to stick b+w for any film work, only using acetate backed film stock and sending the films off to a lab that uses Xtol as their developer (with the proper silver reclamation and treatment of spent chemistry to render it safe, minimising impact). Luckily I’m not the most prolific of ‘togs, so hopefully treading fairly lightly on the earth (also digital isn’t necessarily as green as might be imagined). Luckily most of my G.A.S revolves around the cheap end of a certain auction site’s offerings ???? I also have a preference for older cameras that don’t rely so much on batteries, hopefully a good thing enviromentally. Anyway, I wish you well with yours ????
Thank you for your comments. Great to hear that you have been working to reduce your impact in the ways that work for you. Exactly what I’m trying to promote – not perfectionism but improvement. I would be interested to learn more about your comments on acetate backed film stocks being better. I’m currently researching developers myself and have just done a fantastic workshop with a chap who runs Eco Praxis lab which was really science/chemistry based which was perfect for my desire to understand what is bad and how we navigate that. I haven’t yet tackled colour chemistry yet in terms of improvement. I’m starting by learning to process it at home and I’ll go from there in my search 🙂
Acetate strikes me as a better option ecologically as it source is plant cellulose, as opposed to oil-derived polyester. I know the former isn’t as archival in the long term, but as far as I know and doesn’t necessarily sit as flat as the latter, but I prefer to take the acetate route. Most film data sheets will say what the base material is. I will say at this point that these are just my thoughts. I’d be interested if anyone knows different to this. It’s always good to be able to aim for the best option ???? I’ll have to look up Eco Praxis – sounds interesting.
Thank you! Any favourite film stocks using acetate that I could look into? I’d love to suggest this as a discussion in our Facebook group!
Funny this should come up here. Our family film night the other weekend was Cinema Paradiso, which prompted me to look up the history of acetate film and the nitrate film it replaced. I didn’t even know till then that there is now also polyester film! (Apparently movie studios still prefer acetate, as it just breaks if it sticks, rather than tearing the sprockets out of the camera.)
Funny how these little links pop up!
Great article, and all other things aside, it’s just good to see the subject of mental health being talked about.
Thank you. I think we are fortunate that it is being talked about that little bit more each year. 🙂
About 24 rolls each of 120 and 135? That’s hardly ridiculous- I’d call it a sensible stash.
I’m buying gear, film, books, magazines etc. to support small businesses, still struggling on. With a fixed income, I’m experiencing the “COVID-19 Dividend”! Sounds disgusting, but unable to travel or eat out, I have a surplus. Things I’d have been hesitant about committing to, I now fork out for. Not just photo related.
PS. Holly that includes reading my collection of photography books, some previously unread. COVID dividend indeed.
Well, I do agree with you. When buying photography books from small businesses/direct from the artist I have received some lovely postcards with hand written thank you notes which not only lifts my spirits but look lovely on the shelf by the desk that I seem to be permanently tied to (through work)
Buying gear and film has hit me hard and put quite the dent in my pocket book these past few years. It took a world crisis for me to slow down the camera purchases. Funny though I have not had the inclination to buy books or magazines.
People like what they like I suppose. I love books, in general not just photography ones. Just as I like looking at my cameras on a shelf, I love looking at my books. For my husband he likes to be able to see his films on display…we need a lot of shelf space in this house hahah
Something I try to do is Fall in love with what I have.
I fall down the rabbit hole too, and I have a work budget that lets me buy most anything I want. The key is, do I need it and will I use it. Ive got a few lenses on the shelf that got used once…
I also have a 50 year old British motorcycle I have owned for 40 years, I love it more now than the day I bought it…
I absolutely love that sentiment! I’m going to take a note of that and reflect on it often – thank you 🙂
Cameras, boats, books, british motorcycles … I claw my way out of one rabbit hole and keep falling down another.
Hi Holly, I can really relate to this post! All the best for your plans to turn all that energy into something productive! I hope you keep this community posted about your camera repair efforts!
I have no doubt that I will haha
I never thuoght about it until I read this piece. I was a very happy advanced amateur with my assorted Leica digitals ( M240, &CL) and two film camera ( a Paubel Makina 67 and a Hasselblad 501 C/M). Then Covid isolation hit. Right now I have sold the M 240 and Hassy but added a Leica SL, Rollei 35S, Zeiss 35mm Contessa folder, Zeiss 120 Super Ikonta BX, a Cambo Wide 470 with 120 two roll backs, a Rollei 2.8 E, and a Fuji G617 (panorama).
Almost all are temporary shelf queens because I can’t go out shooting without violating the Covid restrictions. Before Covid a was an occasional cautious and conservative equipment buyer and as far from OCD as one can get.
Yes, G.A.S. is real and and probably results from isolation and boredom. I’ll wait out the Covid isolation and try to control my G.A.S. urges after reading your article. Thank you for the heads up.
Oh, BTW, I just noticed a very clean and fully functional Contax IIIa . I wonder whether………? Hmmm.
perhaps when you have a moment Holly you might reflect for us on those books that you have found the most rewarding to read – I feel sure you will have a good take on this that might help us in turn in our book searches (or mail me direct if you don’t think it works for the site). Hamish old buddy – have you thought perhaps of creating a reader top ten titles or something along those lines. Perhaps with two or three sub categories. I have certainly bought more photo books and zines in the last year than in the last ten. Holly, thanks too for your broader reflections on what makes us all tick, or indeed what doesn’t make us tick. Stay safe and keep well. Des
Well I’m honoured that you would want to hear my opinion on books. I think that list would be ever changing as I continue to read and learn. I’ll have a think about ways in which I could create something along those lines that would work ????
I agree entirely with you point of view on GAS! I have suffered with anxiety and adjustment disorder. As you can imagine, 2020 brought me to the brink of total and utter breakdown as I had to deal with what was happening. I had just gotten married in 2019, my wife and I were trying for a baby, and then the world grinded to a halt. I could not see friends or family, which was brutal for an extrovert like me. Work moved from the office to my home. My wife is a nurse and was working with the elderly. I did not adjust well and suffered a burnout. One thing that aligned with all of that was my GAS. I went from 3 cameras to 100 in the months since. Thank you for sharing.
I am so happy that this article has helped people, you aren’t the only one to relate to it, I’ve had a fair few people reach out to me either on here or privately. I think mental health is a really important topic but it’s always scary to put something so honest out there, so it’s great to hear that it’s doing some good ????
GAS is not specific to photography. I first heard it in terms of wet shaving: razors, blades, brushes, etc., Eleven years ago when I got into that. I stopped with it when I figured out what worked for me.
It hasn’t been a problem for me with photography because I don’t focus, as it were, on equipment but on composition. Gear generally won’t help me with that
Wow, razors! I can imagine it being applied to many areas but I had genuinely only heard of it used for cameras.
I would say the books part is the only “useful” aspect of my GAS as books don’t tend to go unloved whereas I have a couple of cameras that don’t get used…
The term actually originated with guitars 🙂 Steely Dan’s guitar player Walter Becker is believed to have coined it, in a 1996 editorial for Guitar Player magazine.
You learn something new every day!
‘Concentrate on what you’re doing with it’ is good advice whether you’re holding a camera or a razor. ????
Thank you Holly for this article, I really relate. I’ve also noticed that reading about cameras, film, and photographs, is something that I do to distract myself. Not a destructive distraction, and sometimes necessary, but great to notice and wonder what else is going on / if there are even healthier alternatives sometimes (as you suggest). Really helps to hear someone else is in the same place. Look forward to more articles (from you) on 35mmc — all part of my self-soothing morning ritual!
Thank you! What kind words! I’ve found it useful to know this about myself as it helps me notice it happening
I had never heard of the term G.A.S. until I started using 35MMC, but I’m quite relaxed with my newly defined addiction. On the ‘hobbies’ section of job applications I always entered ‘Collector of Photographic Curios’ which always engendered a comment and smiles all around at job interviews. My wife calls me a ‘hoarder’ but I’d rather like to consider myself as a ‘Custodian of Photographic ‘Objet d’art’.
It’s all words really, but then again, words create worlds.
I love the world you create with your words. I’ll have to think of an interesting way to talk about my film and book collection ????
I bought my first photo book in 1970. Haven’t stopped,
A photo book is:
1. A mini exhibit in your home that never closes and is free…
2. An insight into the mind of a photographer…
3. A look into a world that you may want to explore…
4. That great smell of paper & ink…
Books are certainly a great love of mine ☺️
I understand where you are coming from. And I agree with a previous writer, 35MMC is a bit (big bit!) dangerous for GAS initiation. In my case, I have more than enough film cameras for the rest of my life, including my father’s 1949 Leica IIIC. Whenever I convince myself that I want-need another item or lens, I try to ask:
1. Will it help me create better photographs with a focal length or format that I could not capture with existing equipment?
2. Will the new equipment be noticeably more convenient?
But often I fail on those questions and buy it anyway. Sometimes I can bypass the GAS by buying something inexpensive, such as a filter, or taking out a camera that I had not used in some months. Then it feels like a new tool.
Unlike what some of the other respondents above reported, here in Mississippi, we have not been restricted in getting out and driving around. Photographing is a solo activity, so quite safe during a virus. This way I can keep exploring my surroundings.
Keep collecting and stay safe!
Sensible approach! I think for me the jump from research to purchase is much more prevalent with film stocks and books!
Holly, yet another great article. I’ve not suffered from photo GAS in a long time as I’ve had the same general kit for more than three decades. I have also been blessed to be gifted several beautiful camera kits. As far as how photography supports my mental health it has usually been as a way for me to re-visit those times when life and family seemed happier even in the midst of difficult times. I use photography in the present to create more moments that I can someday look back on and to also photograph moments for others so that they may someday fondly look back to another time that they can cherish.
On that note just yesterday I did a spontaneous photo shoot out in the snow with the young son of my neighbor. The boy had his big four wheel RC truck out in the snow doing donuts and climbing the landscape rocks in our yard. I grabbed up several different cameras and proceeded to shoot some “portraits” of the truck. I then photographed the boy in similar perspective and I plan to place him next to the truck in matching scale later in post. I even did a “drone” shot from atop a ladder. The boy was excited as I explained the concept to him and I hope that this event also acts as an introduction to film photography for this young man. The part of this story that gives context to this moment is that I live in the DFW, Texas region of the U.S. Today is my first time back online since Sunday. My electricity has been on &off and we have received record snow and low temps(minus 2 degrees F) not seen here in 100 years. A disaster across the whole state. This boys family and some of us neighbors had just finished cleaning up their kitchen after they experienced a burst water line and now in a lighter moment he had his RC truck out in the snow. This is what I want as well as him and his parents to remember from this week of disaster. I hope to always be a good ambassador for the film community. BTW check out the “Open Range” photo book of my friend and fellow film photographer John Langmore of Austin, Texas.
Hi Bill, I am absolutely honoured that you would take the time to comment on my post after the time you’ve had. I have a couple of people that I’m in contact with in Texas and it looks like you’ve had an horrific time of it! I love this story and what you are trying to achieve, what beautiful sentiment. Bit dangerous recommending books to a book-a-holic… I’ll definitely be checking it out 🙂